Emily Dickinson on Possibility via The Lucky Art of Bibliomancy

Recently in a secondhand bookstore, a jazzy little book jumped into my hand. I was drawn to it by its beautiful cover design which read “Dickinson”, meaning Emily. Finding the book, and the first poem I turned to, proved to be a lovely bit of bibliomancy.

The usual definition of “bibliomancy” is divination by means of a book opened at random to some verse or passage, to which an interpretation is given. But to me it has come to mean the fortuitous and rather magical arrival of a book — or a message in a book — by seeming happenstance, at just the right time. 

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

I opened the little book to the perfect poem to publish my first day back from break:

I dwell in Possibility
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This – 
The spreading wide my narrow Hands 
To gather Paradise –

“dwell in possibility“: the very essence of Improvised Life, written by the amazing Dickinson in her astonishing, inimitable, forthright, defying-all-norms way in the 1800’s. She even references the elements of a house — one of our favorite subjects — built on this essential principle.

Emily Dickinson Pocket Library cover

The physical perfection of the book itself reminded me — from its cover to its size, weight and layout — of just how essential great design can be, as well as a fine editor who carefully chose a satisfying selection from Dickinson’s boggling trove of 1800 poems. It is one of Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet series, founded in 1906 and relaunched in the US in 1991, beautifully designed by Barbara deWilde. You can find Dickinson: Poems (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets) here for a measly $12.86 (It is WAY more beautiful in person than in the off-color photograph.)


pocket library jacket stylies

The Pocket Poet series has two jacket styles. The striped, color-blocked jackets denote work by a single author and the jackets with imagery denote themed collections. Each volume’s spine has a different ornamental motif, as you can see in the top image.

One or a few would make a perfect holiday gift.

Even without the covers, the Everyman’s Library books are lovely.

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

4 Responses to Emily Dickinson on Possibility via The Lucky Art of Bibliomancy

  1. Tim 12.07.2015 at 8:40am #

    Too funny. The poem that showed up in my weekly email today from Teach this Poem (from Poets.org) is Emily Dickinson’s Winter is Good – His Hoar Delights. Her birthday is 12/10 so maybe that’s the occasion. Thank you for mentioning this series. Now I know what I want for Christmas. And thank you for such a wonderful and inspiring website.

  2. Sally 12.08.2015 at 9:59pm #

    Well, I’ve become pretty accustomed to the simultaneity that goes on around here. Yeah that whole set of books would lead to some pretty great discoveries, and just be wonderful to look at on a shelf.

  3. catherineap 12.11.2015 at 7:38pm #

    Aha, the sortes Virgilianae. The ancient Romans used the same means of divination by opening Virgil’s Aeneid at random.

  4. Sally 12.17.2015 at 10:08am #

    It’s actually a wonderful practice with many books. Amazing how spot-on it can be.

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